Internet libel consists of statements published on Web sites that were known to be false by the writer and that can be shown to have caused harm to the party at which they were directed. With Internet law in its infancy, cases of Internet libel are frequently complex, and laws vary greatly from jurisdiction to jurisdiction.
- Skill level:
Things you need
- Computer with Internet access
- Internet law or libel and slander attorney (highly recommended)
Know the statute of limitations for bringing a lawsuit in your state. A helpful chart and direct links to information categorized by state can be found at FreeAdvice.com (see Resources below).
Understand how to protect yourself if you're responsible for any potentially libelous content published on the Internet. In order for someone to sue you for libel, the published statement(s) must first of all be known to be false and second, must cause injury to the party at whom they're directed.
Remove any potentially libelous content at once if someone threatens to sue you. In some jurisdictions, Internet content may still be applicable to cease and desist laws. This essentially means that the complainant must first ask the webmaster or person responsible for the offensive content, in writing, to remove it before legal action can be taken.
Know that Internet law can vary wildly from place to place. Internet libel lawsuits can be difficult to win. It is recommended that you track any subsequent Internet activity, such as blogging, that may go on in response to the libel. Presentation of such activity in court is a key way in which to show that the offensive content caused you harm.
Prepare to gather witnesses to testify to the effect of the libel. You will probably also have to disclose financial losses on court record if your suit goes to trial.
Find a specialist in Internet law or libel and slander law. AttorneyPages (see Resources below) has convenient links to personal injury law firms categorized by state. Have your attorney review your case and initiate any subsequent legal action.
Consider seeking an out-of-court settlement if you have a strong case and would prefer to avoid the hassle and expense involved with civil law proceedings. However, be aware that defendants in Internet libel civil lawsuits may be reluctant to settle out of court, given the diffuse nature of Internet law.
Tips and warnings
- Recent landmark cases in some U.S. states have found that Internet service providers can be held responsible in some instances for content published on their networks. Remember, though, that Internet law is just now beginning to take form, and very few rulings regarding Internet libel have stood unchallenged.
- Given the Constitutional protection free speech enjoys in the United States and the difficult-to-manage nature of the Internet, Internet libel can be particularly difficult to prosecute. However, you are perfectly within your rights to sue someone for Internet libel if the party published statements online which you can show in court caused you significant harm.